WASHINGTON - Two months into his term, President George W. Bush's foreign policy approach has irked US rivals as perhaps was intended, but it has also alienated some of Washington's longest and closest allies.
"There is no question that there is a new harder line," said William Taylor, director of political-military studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.
"It's a 'get-tough' message that not everyone is happy to hear," he said.
Though Bush likely wanted to put Russia and China on notice that his administration would be taking a harder line than that of his predecessor, he has at the same time outraged Europe with decisions on abortion and the environment.
Sometimes I get up in the morning and wonder who we're going to offend today
US State Department
"Sometimes I get up in the morning and wonder who we're going to offend today," said a senior career diplomat at the State Department.
Having had their initial fears of a complete withdrawal of American troops from the Balkans soothed, many US allies in Europe are now incredulous as to why Bush has abandoned the Kyoto global warming protocol and eliminated US funding for organizations that provide abortion services abroad.
European officials have blasted both decisions, urging a rethink in Washington on Kyoto. Some in the European Union have even proposed making up the US funding lost to family planning agencies by the abortion move.
Hanging over these policy changes is lingering European concern about Bush's insistence on developing a national missile defense system (NMD), which both Russia and China oppose and warn will spark a new nuclear arms race.
The Ugly American
President George W. Bush is seen during a press conference in the White House Briefing Room on March 29, 2001. Bush has decided to walk away from the Kyoto agreement on pollution because it isn't in America's "economic interest." (Win McNamee/Reuters)
In fact, as the Bush team conducts top-to-bottom reviews of nearly all foreign policies followed by the previous administration, advocacy of missile defense has been one of the only consistent themes voiced by officials.
These reviews, Taylor said, have left Washington's handling of international affairs in limbo, guided only by the "get tough message."
"US foreign policy is in a very uncertain period and, with the exception of missile defense, the examples are all over the landscape," he said.
It was the determination on missile defense that first raised eyebrows in Beijing and Moscow. NMD however is now only one item on a laundry list of complaints the Russians and Chinese have with the United States.
Beijing and Moscow have also bristled with anger at Washington's positions on Taiwan and Chechnya, and its threats to retaliate against Russian arms sales to Iran and Chinese technology transfers to Iraq.
Added to that are a bitter espionage row with Russia that will see 100 US and Russian diplomats expelled from the two countries by summer, and Washington and Beijing's accusation trading in the still-unfolding spy plane drama in China.
At the height of last month's tit-for-tat spying expulsions with Russia, a senior State Department official met with the self-styled "foreign minister" of the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, angering Moscow which accuses the Chechen of being a terrorist.
Then, Bush bluntly told visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen that Washington would not take Beijing's position into account when making decisions on arms sales to Taiwan which China regards as a renegade province.
Earlier in March, Bush stunned longtime Asia-Pacific ally South Korea when he essentially repudiated rapprochement efforts with North Korea. At the same time a pair of unforeseen events, both involving US nuclear submarines, have damaged ties with Japan.
Korea experts expressed astonishment at the tough line adopted by Bush on Pyongyang, which was seen in many circles as a direct rebuff to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" toward the Stalinist north.
After professing a desire to re-energize relations with Japan, Bush and other US officials since February have found themselves apologizing repeatedly to Tokyo for incidents including military faux pas, crime on Okinawa, and the submarine incidents.
Meanwhile in the Middle East, Washington has earned the wrath of the Arab world for harsh criticism of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and its veto of a UN observer force to protect his people, which may have jeopardized US efforts to modify international sanctions against Iraq.
Closer to home, Bush has alarmed Canada with the Kyoto decision his proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and Brazil is resisting US attempts to speed up the creation of a North American Free Trade zone.
Copyright © 2001 AFP